One step ahead of the job market

They say it's not what you know but who you know, unless, like Scott Weinstein, you have both going for you.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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When Scott Weinstein wanted to find a new job he relied on his extensive network.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The secret to finding a job in a tough market? Put yourself out there, even when you're not looking for work.

At least that's what worked for senior tech specialist Scott Weinstein. By the time he decided it was time to leave his post at Citigroup in January, he had already established the connections that would help him land his next gig.

"There's certainly a widespread understanding that getting a job isn't as easy as it used to be," Weinstein, 34, said. "Eighteen months ago if I wanted to move I would have had a choice of multiple jobs."

This time around, Weinstein, who writes software to ease the flow of equity trades, knew that sending out resumes in response to job postings alone would not reap results. "There were a couple of mid-level positions and super-senior positions on job boards," he said, and "for some of those jobs I just wasn't qualified."

So, Weinstein fell back on the network he had compiled long before his job search began. He was already in touch with a few recruiters who had contacted him in the past, both on the phone and through professional networking site LinkedIn.

"Even when I'm not looking, I typically take the call," he explained. "I find most [recruiters] are pretty solid, if you talk to them, they're more likely to help you out."

He had also met many other people in his industry, including potential employers, over the past few years by frequenting informal meet ups and other social industry gatherings.

It's a great way to stay current, Weinstein explained. While the focus of these meetings is on new programs and technologies in development, "there's always an undercurrent of networking."

Some of the gatherings within the tech-community in New York were hosted by companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and even Lab49, a boutique firm that caught Weinstein's interest.

It was there that, just before he left his job at Citi, he exchanged business cards with his future employer and lined up the job interview that led to a job as a senior consultant. His new job is also centered on financial services consulting and builds on his experience with Citi, but is a far cry from his old job at the banking giant.

"I'm going from a 300,000-person company to a 100-person company," Weinstein said. "It might be a higher risk move," he said, "but the way I figured it, it's risky everywhere."

Finding success face to face

Whether you're gainfully employed or actively looking for a job, getting involved in professional associations and participating in your industry's community is an important way to create visibility for yourself and stay current on the latest news, our panel of career experts said.

"This approach is very effective," said Ford Myers, president of Career Potential, LLC, and author of the upcoming book, "Get the Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring."

"[Weinstein] was able to make very good connections as he built his network," Myers said. And, the personal relationships he had developed over the years within his community ultimately paid off.

According to Barbara Safani, President of Career Solvers in New York, "he did exactly what he should be doing, which is always networking, even when you aren't looking."

"It's important to be active in a professional organization to get the educational component of what's happening in your industry," Safani said.

Not only will you meet more people in your field, but also, "it certainly shows a commitment to your profession," she said.

Myers recommends trying to meet many people within your industry long before the job search starts. Job seekers will then be in a better position to call up contacts and follow leads when they are in need of assistance.

There are local gatherings available even for those outside major cities. "Every industry has its own associations, organizations, clubs and groups and they all have regional meetings, events, speakers, functions and so on, Myers said. Check with your industry's trade association or Meetup.com for starters, he suggested.

Even if local meet ups or social gatherings aren't as readily available, there are many online networks that you can participate in as well. Safani suggests joining networking communities like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Spoke, Ecademy and Ryze, just to name a few.

"Job boards and social media Web sites are useful tools but that's all they are," Myers warned, they facilitate networking, they don't replace it.

"You've got to make one-on-one, in-person contact," Myers said, "It makes all the difference."

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